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Review of "False-Memory Creation in Children and Adults"

By David F. Bjorklund
Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000
Review by Marcus Tye, Ph.D. on Sep 8th 2002
False-Memory Creation in Children and Adults

David F. Bjorklund’s book, False-Memory Creation in Children and Adults: Theory, Research, and Implications, represents as its title suggests a comprehensive look at the extensive research concerning false-memories. This is an edited volume, with individual chapters being written by many of the leading memory researchers.

Brown, Goldstein, and Bjorklund begin with a concise historical overview of the repressed memory and false memory debate (or, if you prefer, debacle). While painting a largely accurate picture of the rise and fall of the recovered memory movement, they do not offer a balanced acknowledgement of the claims of “other side” and so this book is likely to be rejected by those who perhaps should most read it. The introductory chapter concludes by remarking, “It is our hope that in the future therapists and scientists can more easily share their ideas and data in an environment that is free from the polarizing polemics that characterized the previous decade.” (p. 26). As noted, this book is unlikely to be welcomed by those clinicians who already mistrust the scientific literature on memory. It is my opinion that there is much to be offered by science to those who work with survivors of trauma, and that the lack of cross-over between the two communities may result from a tendency for books on science to rarely include a chapter on treatment, and vice-versa.

Nevertheless, in providing excellent coverage of the research, this book indirectly sheds light on the nature of true memory and the implications that research has for clinicians working with the recollection of experienced events, including traumatic events. In chapter two, Tsai, Loftus and Polage present their false-memory creation research and their current imagination inflation model. Next, Oakes and Human briefly present a less well known but compelling model of the creation of a “false self” that can help to bridge the gap between lab studies, such as their own, which create isolated false memories, and the complete life-histories that some individuals may have created, such as those who report repeated abduction by UFOs. In chapter four, Pezdek and Taylor present a good overview of research on Statement Validity Assessment and Criteria Based Content Analysis, a technique for differentiating true and false statements. While willfully false statements are a different matter than believed-in false recollections, SVA may have application for both. Chapter five by Brainerd, Reyna, and Poole covers fuzzy-trace theory and the applications of this memory theory in expert testimony in the courts. Chapter six covers the neuroscience of constructive memory, and is authored by Schacter, Norman, and Koustaal, but does not cover the literature on the neuroscience of traumatic memory. Chapter seven by Ceci, Bruck, and Battin covers suggestibility in children, and finally chapter eight by Ornstein and Follmer Greenhoot covers the fate of distant memories of experienced events.

This book has two significant shortcomings. The first is an omission of the scientific literature about the encoding of traumatic events. The experience of repeated trauma has been shown to lead to neurological changes that may also affect memory or retrieval. While not relevant per se to false memory creation, it would have made the present volume more attractive to those clinicians who believe that anything labeled “memory research” ignores the lives of survivors of real trauma. PTSD is not even in the index.

Also significant is the second shortcoming: little coverage of what science has to say regarding interviewing children. True, this is touched on tangentially in several chapters (particularly seven and eight), but the focus of the volume on the creation of false memory would not have been compromised by more extensive coverage of how to avoid creating false memories. The scientific literature on false memory creation not only provides implications for avoiding false memory creation, but has actually generated a substantial body of techniques that have already been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of false-memory creation. These are techniques that increase the accuracy of recollection of experienced events, and are particularly useful when interviewing young children. Sadly these techniques are often not used by those frontline clinicians who conduct such interviews. For example, in this book, only a passing reference is made to Michael Lamb’s extensive research on empirically-supported interview protocols.

To return to the beginning chapter, the editor noted that there is frequently a divide between therapists and researchers when it comes to memory research. This is too bad, because the science of false memory creation has already generated a useful set of tools that therapists can use when exploring memory. This book would have been stronger with the addition of a chapter devoted to such techniques. In conclusion, while False-Memory Creation in Children and Adults: Theory, Research, and Implications does not fully live up to the final word in its subtitle (implications), it excels at coverage of the first two (theory and research).


© 2002 Marcus Tye



            Marcus Tye, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dowling College, NY.

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